Tioga Pass is a beautiful drive through Yosemite National Park. You’ll need an entire day to conquer the winding mountain roads that run over 100km. Not to mention, there will be plenty of times you’ll want to pull over and admire the view, which ranges from vast meadows to towering mountains.
My journey started in El Portal and took approximately eight hours to complete. I made the decision to continue my adventure outside Yosemite and into the Lee Vining and Lake Mono area (which I’ll write a separate article about). Each person’s experience with Tioga Pass will be different, but I can’t stress enough that you don’t want to be driving after dark. A basic game plan is a must, so I’ve highlighted my favourite spots that you cannot afford to miss!
Most people will be starting their journey at Yosemite Village or El Portal, which means that you must go through Big Oak Flat Road before reaching Tioga Pass. There are plenty of landscapes worth photographing, but my favourite is the one pictured above. You get a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley and an excellent shot of Half Dome in the distance.
Keep driving and you’ll eventually hit Tioga Road which then leads towards Tuolumne Grove. In this area, there is a large population of giant sequoias and is perfect for hiking. Most people take a couple hours to complete the loop and continue their journey through Tioga Pass. The next area of interest is Olmsted Point, which is approximately one hour by car from Tuolumne Grove.
You’ve now reached the most impressive section of Tioga Pass. Olmsted Point features panoramic views of Tenaya Canyon and in the distance, Half Dome can be seen. The most notable feature is a lone tree that has grown within a crevice of granite. While this is common in Yosemite, this particular tree grew in the perfect spot for photo composition. It has become the symbol of Olmsted Point and marks where your drive will transition from mountain to meadow landscapes.
Tenaya is a beautiful lake that is just minutes away from Olmsted Point. On a calm day, you can get beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountain range. There are quite a few things to do around the lake which include: hiking, canoeing, and swimming if you can brave the cold waters. Lastly, Tenaya is a great spot to eat lunch or dinner because the sandy shores are perfect for picnics.
The Tuolumne Meadows are expansive fields that cover a large portion of Yosemite high country. With an elevation of 2,500 meters, this area represents a continental divide which runs along the eastern parts of California. Like every other section of the park, you’ll find a long list of trails to explore. Most people will turn around after exploring Tuolumne Meadows or continue driving outside the park. I highly recommend going the “extra mile” and visiting Lee Vining, which is home to the otherworldly Lake Mono.
Driving Tioga Pass will take you through vast meadows and rugged mountains. It’s a nice sampler of the diversity Yosemite National Park has to offer visitors. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of time you’ll be spending in the car, driving mountain roads can be thrilling for many drivers. If you’re nervous about mountain driving, most of your concerns will be alleviated with Tioga’s exceptionally maintained roads and barriers near cliffs.
Lastly, I mentioned before that you should consider visiting Mono Lake. This area falls outside the boundaries of Yosemite but cannot be missed. You’ll want to allocate a couple extra hours for this activity. In addition, I want to reinforce having a solid game plan for tackling Tioga Pass. Driving can be dangerous at night and time passes by quickly when you’re having fun!
Thanks for reading my article on Tioga Pass, be sure to check out my Yosemite Travel Guide.